There’s Hope When You’re Disappointed in Ministry

There are countless reasons why leaders can feel disappointed in ministry. I’ve had my fair share of disappointments, and I bet you have, too. It’s true, no matter how hard we work, often things simply don’t go the way we plan or hope they will.

  • The project you poured your heart into gets scrapped.
  • People drop the ball, and you’re left scrambling.
  • You can’t see the fruit of your countless hours of investment.
  • A tense working relationship comes to a head.
  • Your contributions to the ministry are overlooked.
  • You’re at odds with other leaders over vision and future direction.
  • You lack a mentoring friendship you desperately desire.
  • Ministry demands increase tension at home.
  • There’s a never-ending turnover of volunteers.
  • You’re sidelined in ministry when you’re raring to go.

In Luke 7:18–23, John the Baptist may have felt the pain of disappointment as he sat behind prison bars while ministry moved forward without him.

Did he struggle with doubt over why God would let him languish in prison while there’s so much work to be done?
Did he question God’s sovereignty?
Did he wonder whether Jesus cared for him?
Did he question if Jesus was really the Messiah?

The ministry of Jesus wasn’t turning out to be what John anticipated. Jesus was changing water into wine and healing paralytics instead of waving a winnowing fork. And John surely didn’t predict being thrown into prison for publicly rebuking Herod Antipas’ unlawful marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias (Luke 3:19–20). Maybe, like John, you know that disheartening feeling when ministry doesn’t turn out as you expect.

Ministry Won’t Look Like We Expect

During my seventeen-year tenure of serving in vocational ministry, I’ve experienced almost every kind of disappointment. Ministry is rarely what I imagine it will be because we live under the curse of a broken and sinful world. I fall short of being the humble, selfless servant I long to be, and there are times when my struggle is the direct result of my pride and trying to work through human effort instead of relying on the Spirit.

There’s also a tendency to believe that if we’re doing the “right” things for the “right” reasons, then ministry will go according to our expectations. If you’re in ministry, you are making daily sacrifices to serve Jesus, which can lead to a false belief that we deserve a smooth-sailing ministry. We forget that God is more concerned about shaping us rather than using us in ministry. It’s through sailing on tumultuous waves that endurance, character, and gospel hope train us to walk worthy of our calling.

Is Christ Worth It?

In the 1960s, Helen Roseveare was an English missionary doctor serving in the Congo. There were times in Helen’s life when she admitted feeling disillusioned and unfit for the task. Whenever ministry got particularly tough, she’d ask herself, “Is it worth it?” There was one point when Helen was strongly advised to leave the country because of guerilla warfare and a looming civil war. Helen chose to stay in the Congo despite the threatening danger.

What was initially feared became a horrifying reality. Villages were ransacked and people were terrorized. Rebel soldiers beat Helen, humiliated her, assaulted her, broke her glasses, destroyed her books, and held her captive for five months. In complete brokenness, Helen cried out in anguish to the Lord, “Is it worth it?” The Lord gently impressed on her heart, “Helen, the question isn’t, Is it worth it? The question is, Am I worth it?”

Before Helen’s death in 2016, she offered some final reflections on life and ministry:

All of us have the privilege of being called to be His servants. Jesus said that He Himself didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give [which we should hold] in the back of our hearts all the time. We haven’t been called to some big outward thing, to be written about or publicized; we’re called to serve Him. We serve Him because we love Him. Whatever we’re doing we’re doing for Jesus and doing for Him to be uplifted. . . .

When there’s a problem and when you feel you’ve reached the end of your tether, He is there. He knows. He’s been through it all. He’s there to encourage you and strengthen you and help you and prompt you all the way. Even if you can’t see any point in what you’re doing, and sometimes it does seem pretty pointless, but nevertheless, it’s for Him. He knows what He’s doing and why.

Helen Roseveare, John the Baptist, and so many others join the army of saints who ran their races well, not because there weren’t moments of disappointment but because Christ is worth it.

The heroes of faith saluted in Hebrews 11 bear witness to us who are still running our race that God’s grace supplies strength to suffer disappointment without bailing out for an easier life. These men and women all died clinging to hope without receiving God’s promises on earth because they were living for a higher purpose. They are known as the ones “of whom the world was not worthy” because their testimonies shout to the world, “Christ is worthy.”

Take Your Disappointment to Jesus

As the chosen forerunner to Jesus, John the Baptist may have wrestled with doubt but he was clear about one thing. He knew exactly where to take his disappointments: straight to the Savior. Jesus pointed John to Truth to find hope that everything is going exactly according to plan. There’s a sense that Jesus was saying to John that all the prophecies and promises about Himself—proclamations of good news and of the judgment to come—will be fulfilled in God’s perfect timing (not man’s). John’s source of comfort for disappointment is exactly what you and I need, too.

I’ve started a list of verses to cling to when clawing for hope in our ministry callings. Personalize this “hope list” by adding your own favorite Scriptures:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23).

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3–4).

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands (Ps. 138:8).

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10).

Sisters, you can take comfort that disappointment is a part of our training program as servants of the living God. But don’t let them sideline you. Disappointments will never disappear, but we can find lasting hope as we turn to Jesus and surrender our letdowns to Him as an act of faith and worship. Let’s take a lesson from the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on in the faith . . . Race to Jesus for the gospel hope that never disappoints when ministry disappoints.

About the Author

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two local churches, and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. She connects with women’s leaders around the world in the Revive Our Hearts Leader Facebook Group and as host of online training events. A teacher at heart, she is devoted to training and discipling the next generation to treasure Christ above all. Leslie and her husband Mac live in S.C. where she loves spending time with family, and admiring Lowcountry sunsets.